Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 4 Issue: 88

Dagestan elected a new parliament on March 11. As with other regions of Russia, the Kremlin wanted to guarantee a victory for the two pro-Kremlin parties, United Russia and Just Russia. First, the authorities focused all of their efforts on preventing opposition parties from winning the elections. Last February the Dagestan Electoral Committee refused to register the liberal Union of Right Forces and the Communist Party. Protests followed and the Communist Party was finally registered, but the Union of Right Forces was not and thus could not participate in the election process. The party was under strong pressure and the head of its branch in Kyzlayar District, Magomed Omarmagomedov, was even kidnapped (Vremya novostei, February 2).

The most notable feature of local elections in Dagestan is that they are not a struggle among different political parties or leaders, but among different ethnic groups and clans. Since Mukhu Aliev, the president of Dagestan, is an Avar (the largest ethnic group in the region), Avar politicians headed the lists of candidates from United Russia and Just Russia. Members of the Dargin minority, the clan of former Dagestan leader, Magomed Magomedov and Said Amirov, the mayor of the republican capital, Makhachkala, were also on the lists, but exercised limited influence. The Dargin clans, as well as other minorities, needed to use opposition parties in order to accumulate enough representatives to compete with the Avars on an equal footing in the parliament. Members of Said Amirov’s group were not only on the United Russia list, but also on the list of the Union of Right Forces and of the Patriots of Russia party. Lezgin and Kumyk groups also used the Patriots of Russia party to seek representation in the legislature.

Nevertheless, the Avar groups loyal to Mukhu Aliev controlled not only the United Russia list, but also the list of Just Russia. For example, according to the Regnum news agency, while an Avar politician, Gadzhi Makhachev, controlled the United Russia list in the city of Khasavyurt, his brother headed the city’s list for Just Russia (Regnum, March 15).

Conflicts intensified as the Dagestan elections drew closer. On February 14, Eduard Khidirov, chairman of the Dagestan branch of Patriots of Russia, was gravely wounded in Makhachkala. In Dakhadaevsky District, two political opponents from United Russia and the Union of Right Forces drew guns against each other during debates — and the two candidates were cousins (Kavkazky uzel, February 14).

Dmitry Kozak, the Russian presidential envoy to the Southern Federal District, controlled the election campaign in the republic. He visited the region twice last February to meet with Mukhu Aliev. His main objective was to find a balance among rival groups to prevent conflicts. Each time Aliev and Kozak met, they discussed which ethnic groups should be represented in the future parliament and how many seats each of them should take. At a press conference in early March, Kozak called upon the leaders of the region’s parties to consider the ethnic factor when drawing up the election lists (Nezavisimaya gazeta, March 6).

The Dagestan elections themselves were totally rigged, as the republican authorities headed by Mukhu Aliev tried to exclude the Communists and the Patriots of Russia from the local legislature. First, as soon as the elections ended, the republican Electoral Committee announced that only three parties — United Russia, Just Russia, and the Agrarian Party — had managed to exceed the 7% threshold that was needed to win seats in the legislature. Nevertheless, after strong protests both in Moscow and in the region it was announced that the Communist Party and the Patriots had indeed scored more than 7% of votes and that their deputies would have seats in the parliament. Most likely the Kremlin understood that the opposition in the republic should get some concessions; otherwise Dagestan could become even further destabilized.

However, the number of seats that the opposition was allotted in the new parliament is too small to influence any decisions. According to official figures, United Russia received 63.4% of the votes and thus will have an absolute majority in the parliament. The chairman of the old parliament, Magomedsalam Magomedov, a son of the previous republican leader, was replaced by Magomed Suleimanov, who is also Dargin like Magomedov but is loyal to the new local governing elite and personally to Mukhu Aliev.

Despite the fact that the new chairman is a Dargin, the Avar political leaders close to Aliev and those who got into the legislature on United Russia and Just Russia lists will likely dominate local politics.

Mukhu Aliev will continue to strengthen his positions in the republic but the total “Avarization” of Dagestan’s political life is unlikely, since the clans of Dargins, Kumuks, and Lezgins are still strong enough to defend their interests. The Kremlin will also continue to have Kozak monitor the situation in Dagestan and try to preserve ethnic harmony in the volatile region.